Panna National Park is located about half an hour’s drive away from the UNESCO world heritage site of the Khajuraho temples. Declared a National park and Tiger Reserve in 1981 and 1994 respectively, the forest covers an area of about 543 kilometres square. Situated on the Bundelkhand plateau, this forest was once a popular “Shikargah” or hunting ground for the local nobility. A strategically placed circular room can still be seen concealed at the top of a ravine which was often used to hunt animals passing below. The river side has a quaint old temple as well as an open pillared hall giving the viewer an impression of being in an old sepia toned photograph. The park is one of the most dramatic, with plateaus, hills, gorges, waterfalls and the river Ken running through the forest. Panna is a glowing testimonial to a successful effort in tiger conservation. With the tiger population being extinct in Panna in 2009, several tigers were relocated here from other reserves. Increased protection of the park with adept management of the forest led to a steady increase in tiger numbers. Currently there are over 35 adult tigers in the park. This region also has the pride of having one of only two active diamond mines in all of Asia.
The jungle type in Panna is mixed dry deciduous, with short grasses and open woods in the plateau regions. The areas along the river valley have taller grasses and denser tree cover. Patches of bamboo abound on hilly slopes and gorges. Teak is the dominant tree species and it is interesting to note, that this region is the northernmost bastion for a naturally occurring teak forest. Some other commonly seen trees in Panna are species of the tangy ‘Ber’ berries (Ziziphus), Kardhai, Neem, Lendia and various thorny bushes typical of an arid region. It is not uncommon to see fruit trees Indian gooseberry (Amla), mango as well as Jamun (Indian blackberry) occurring quite frequently in areas where villages once flourished. A section along the river has numerous trees of Bael (Golden apple) and Kaithor Wood apple. Both these trees have fruit with very hard woody rinds but soft and sweet or tangy pulp inside. The pulp from both fruits is consumed not only by animals but humans as well. Bael leaves are used for prayer ceremonies and a ‘Sherbet’ from its pulp cools the body and prevents heat strokes. The tangy pulp of Kaith is relished in chutneys and drinks. A sustained effort by the government in increasing vigilance of the park and clearing invasive and domesticated plant species is bearing fruit with a sure increase in animal numbers in recent years.
Along with the wonderful tiger spotting, Panna National Park is an excellent habitat to see antelopes. The Indian gazelle or Chinkara are readily seen along with Blue bulls and glimpses of the reticent four horned antelope. Some of the finest specimens of Sambar -Asia’s largest deer canbe seen here. Wild pigs, jungle cats, sloth bear, striped hyenas and jackals and wild dogs are some other mammals commonly found. Rocky areas with caves provide excellent habitat for the agile leopards that are often seen silhouetted high up on a rock or resting on the branches of a shady tree. One of the most exciting things to do on safari in Panna is to take a short boat ride on the river Ken to look for the Mugger or Marsh Crocodiles. The beautiful painted spur fowls, wire tailed swallows, fishing eagles and the fastest diving bird in the world, the Peregrine falcon can be spotted here. Several highly endangered species of vultures, like the Indian vultures as well as the Egyptian vulturesare seen regularly. The combination of scrubland, rocky areas and the river system allow Panna to have a varied bird life. The park is home to nearly 300 species of birds; both residents summer and winter visitors.